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AAM Names McDermott and Russo New Accreditation Commissioners

Category: Press Release

For Immediate Release

Arlington, VA – The Board of Directors of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) announce the appointment of Marise McDermott and Melissa Russo as new Accreditation Commissioners. Their terms begin January 1, 2020, and end December 31, 2024.

The Accreditation Commission is the body responsible for making independent decisions regarding accredited status. It meets three times per year and is made up of museum professionals that collectively bring a wide range of experience and expertise in the museum field. Commissioners serve in a volunteer capacity. AAM accreditation is the museum industry’s mark of distinction and offers peer-based validation of a museum’s operations and impact.

Marise McDermott has 30 years of experience in museums and cultural arts in a wide variety of roles including director, curator, editor and journalist, and board chair. Since 2004 she has served as President and CEO of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Her other roles at the Witte have included Vice President of Strategic Planning and Director of Humanities and Science Center. Marise recently oversaw the successful $100 million transformation of the museum and campus expansion and is now engaged in its $100 million endowment campaign. The Witte is a participant in the Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity and Inclusion cohort of museums. She has also served as the Executive Director of The History Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for three years, and was the editor of the Texas Committee for the Humanities’ bi-monthly magazine.

Marise is committed to local community service and broad engagement in AAM and the museum field. She is a long-time Accreditation Peer Reviewer who has conducted numerous site visits and oversaw the Witte’s last two reaccreditation processes. She is actively engaged in several San Antonio tourism boards, including Visit San Antonio, San Antonio Visitor Alliance, and the Chamber of Commerce, among other community leadership roles. She is additionally engaged with the Texas Association of Museums. Marise is the recipient of many local and state awards including the 2013 Executive Woman of the Year awarded by the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce; the 2015 Texas Patriot Award from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Alamo Mission Chapter; and the 2017 Business Person of the Year given by the San Antonio Business Journal. She holds an MFA in cultural narratives from Texas State University and a BA from Queens College, City University of New York.

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Melissa Russo brings over two decades of executive-level experience successfully managing both government and private nonprofit museums, along with diverse nonprofit board leadership experience in social services, education, public policy, and the arts. She is experienced in strategic planning, program planning and execution, fundraising, external relations, and non-profit policy and legal issues; and has a demonstrated talent for building partnerships and revenue generation opportunities. Melissa has been the director of the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California since 2015 and oversaw its recent successful reaccreditation process. She is the museum’s first female director. Prior to this, she was the Director of Institutional Advancement at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, CA for seven years and Executive Director of the Western Museums Association for ten. Along the way she also served as adjunct Museum Studies faculty at the John F. Kennedy University, participated on museum leadership search committees, and developed temporary exhibitions. She began her museum career as the Registrar at the Glessner House Museum in Chicago and went on to be the Executive Director of the Pardee Home Foundation and Museum in Oakland. Before entering the museum field, Melissa spent several years in the banking industry.

Over the course of her career, Melissa has been highly active in the museum field at-large. She is a prolific speaker at local, regional, and national conferences, as well as a regular author for museum publications on a wide range of practical topics and contemporary issues. She is an AAM Accreditation Peer Reviewer and IMLS grant reviewer and has served on AAM’s National Program Committee. Melissa has an MA in art history from the University of Illinois, Chicago and a BA in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and a Credentialed California County Senior Executive by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC).

Accreditation Commissioners self-nominate and are appointed by the AAM Board Chair based on recommendations from a nominating committee comprised of representatives from the Board, Accreditation Commission, and selected discipline-specific museum associations. This year, over thirty nominees competed for two open seats.

“Based on their experience and high praise from their peers, I know that Marise and Melissa will serve AAM with dedication and enthusiasm, and the perspectives they bring will add value to the Commission’s work,” said Kippen de Alba Chu, AAM’s Board Chair. “I am grateful for their commitment and volunteer time devoted to these vital positions.”

Learn more about all nine Accreditation Commissioners here.

About the Accreditation Program

Established in 1971, and as the flagship program of the Continuum of Excellence, the Accreditation Program is one of the Alliance’s most important mechanisms for unifying the field around a shared set of standards and ethical principles.

About the American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. For more information, visit



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